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Tea Tree Oil for Lice: Prevention vs. Treatment

Last modified: August 18, 2017

Tea Tree Oil for Lice

Tea tree oil, also known as Melaleuca alternifolia, has played a crucial role in fighting head lice over the years and is often cited as a great home remedy. While we agree that it has some unique and valuable benefits, its efficacy as a standalone treatment has been hampered by the overuse of insecticides (e.g. Permethrin, often sold as Nix and Elimite) and many over-the-counter products over the years, causing lice to build up a resistance.

Prevention vs. Treatment

There is an important distinction to make between the use of tea tree oil as a preventive measure and its usefulness in treating head lice.

As a repellent, tea tree oil is great to keep in the medicine cabinet and use in the event of an outbreak. It is 100% natural, soothing on the scalp, and completely safe when using just a few drops. In fact, because of its natural qualities, many of Hair Fairies’ own lice products contain tea tree oil as a key ingredient for the prevention of head lice!

In a recent segment on Dr. Oz, we explained how tea tree oil can be used to “ward out” lice during an outbreak:

Maria Botham: “Tea tree oil is great to use when you hear about a breakout; […] you want to use it around the border of the scalp and that […] helps ward out the lice.”

Unfortunately, although head lice find the smell of tea tree oil repulsive, it is not enough to make them leave their cozy new home on your scalp.

The reason tea tree oil does not work as a standalone lice treatment is twofold:

  1. It does nothing to suffocate existing lice
  2. Its active lice-fighting ingredient, anticholinesterase, has been rendered almost irrelevant due to lice having already developed a resistance to common insecticides (e.g. Permethrin) and various over-the-counter treatments

So, while not the best way to treat an active outbreak, it does work well as a deterrent in the event of an outbreak.

When to Use Tea Tree Oil for Lice

  • When you hear about an outbreak at school or camp
  • When one family member has an active outbreak or has been exposed to an outbreak
  • If you feel you may have been personally exposed to a lice outbreak

Further Evaluation

If you suspect a family member has head lice, screen everyone in the family. If one child has lice, the siblings have an 80% chance of getting them, too. Check the front of the hairline, behind the ears, the crown, and the back of the neck.

Start by separating the hair. Use a plastic comb to press down on the hair to help nits (eggs) become visible. Next, use our “looping” method to loop hair around the comb and further increase the visibility of nits and lice. Watch the video below for a demonstration.

Examine the entire head. This process should take about 15 minutes.

Conclusion

  • Does tea tree oil kill lice?
    No, not on its own.
  • Does tea tree oil prevent lice?
    Yes, it helps.

Due to lice having already built a resistance to over-the-counter lice treatments, tea tree oil’s active lice-fighting ingredient, anticholinesterase, has lost its efficacy as a standalone lice treatment. Combined with other natural, non-toxic ingredients, however, tea tree oil remains a powerful contributor.

At Hair Fairies, our products combine tea tree oil with additional healing oils (lavender, peppermint, sage) and herbs and plants such as yarrow, cucumber, marshmallow root, lemongrass, mint, sage, and aloe vera. Our plant-based recipes are safe for you and your child, and have proven effective in treating head lice and eggs and preventing their return. Take a look! We are here if you have any questions.